The UK has decided to go ahead with a national vaccination programme against pneumococcal disease, one of the leading causes of meningitis and ear infections, despite concerns about the cost of the shot.

From September 4, Wyeth’s Prevenar vaccine will now be incorporated into the routine vaccinations given to infants in the UK, and a catch-up programme will be undertaken to offer the jab to all children aged under two. The vaccine costs £34.50 per course of three doses – as much as the other elements in the immunisation programme put together.

Denise Vaughan, the chief executive of the Meningitis Research Foundation in the UK, welcomed the development, saying: “The Foundation has been campaigning for many years for pneumococcal vaccine to be introduced into the programme. We are absolutely delighted that within two months it will be offered to all infants and many young lives will be saved.”

There are some 530 cases of severe pneumococcal disease annually in the under twos in England and Wales alone and approximately 50 deaths. The vaccine will not only save children’s lives but also spare at least 100 more children from suffering the devastating after effects of the infection, said Vaughan.

Sir Liam Donaldson, the chief medical officer for England, said earlier this year that the routine use of the vaccine should lead to a dramatic reduction in invasive pneumococcal disease.

Citing experience from the USA where Wyeth launched the vaccine as Prevnar in 2000, he noted that the incidence of invasive pneumococcal disease caused by the seven serotypes in the vaccine has fallen by 94% in children under five years of age and by 62% in individuals aged five and over.

In May, the government was forced to defend its plan to introduce Prevenar after media reports said the Department of Health had delayed the introduction of the vaccine from the summer to the autumn.

And other European governments have not escaped criticism, with an article in the International Journal of Clinical Practice last August claiming that most EU countries have failed to offer the vaccine routinely, despite its clear benefits.